Respondent
Wecht, Cyril H.
Interview Date
1996
Abstract
Respondent physician, lawyer, forensic pathologist, born 1931.
[T1S1] Respondent provides background information: mother, Fannie Rubenstein, born in Russia; father, Nathan Wecht, born in Lithuania; parents met and married in United States, Respondent only child. Respondent states place of birth: Western Pennsylvania Hospital, Pittsburgh, PA; parents lived in Bobtown, Fayette County; moved to McKees Rocks, father in grocery business, mother worked with him; notes second move, 1938, upper Hill District, attended Forbes Elementary School, attended Fifth Avenue High School: graduated, 1948; mentions participati
on in sports in high school, valedictorian of class; gives location of father's grocery story: Marion and Locust Streets. Respondent discusses parents leaving Europe before Holocaust and circumstances of their departures; explains father's study of Talmud and his work before arriving in United States; notes father not religious but observed Friday night traditional dinner. Respondent gives lengthy discussion on father's desire for Respondent. to play violin, studied with teacher from Russia, practiced 4 hours a day during week, 6 hours on week ends, became professional, performed with All City Orchestra: Concertmaster; played all major composers; describes father's love for music; notes father wanted Respondent to be a musician or physician; describes childhood growing up on lower Hill District.
[T1S2] Respondent states few encounters with anti-Semitism; describes ethnic groups in area; owns 2 fine violins, discontinued playing: lack of time; comments on Bar Mitzvah at Beth Jacob Synagogue and reception at Beth Shalom Synagogue; notes children studied at Hebrew Institute, one son speaks Hebrew fluently; gives dates of parent's deaths: father, 1976; mother, 1980; mentions mother's involvement with Jewish groups. Respondent reflects on father: very little time for social life; always drove Respondent to his violin lessons, enjoyed hearing him play; comments on summers spent in New Haven, CT, acquired many friends; explains few Jewish families in lower hill, most families in upper hill; details boundaries: lower hill between Boulevard of Allies and Fifth Avenue, upper hill, Center, Webster and Wylie Avenues.
[T2S3] Respondent describes attitudes of students towards teachers in high school: treated them with respect, unlike today; reflects on parents economic status: middle class; recounts friendships with all ethnic groups while growing up; gives names of schools and dates of graduations from Medical and Law schools. (Remainder of tape blank).
[T2S4] Respondent provides lengthy discussion of college years: applied to University of Pittsburgh, received several scholarships, compares tuition then, $10.00 a credit, to tuition today; entered 1948, lived at home and commuted by street car, explains University perceived as "street car University": very few dormitories. Respondent describes distance of classes from one building to another: difficult schedule and long walk between buildings; mentions large enrollment of veterans post World War II, states "veterans a stabilizing and maturing influence." Respondent discusses affiliation with Phi Epsilon Pi fraternity: active member: important for social life and group contacts; mentions parents move to Squirrel Hill, repeats father's desire for Respondent to become doctor and his acceptance as part of life, never questioned it; describes extensive involvement with campus life: president of fraternity, president of student body in senior year, business manager of <i>Pitt News</i> and Pitt Players, concertmaster of orchestra; notes desire to combine medicine and law: legal medicine. Respondent comments on enrollment at University of Buffalo Medical School and return to University of Pittsburgh for 3<sup>rd</sup> and 4<sup>th</sup> years; describes junior internship at St. Francis Hospital during those years; attended University of Pittsburgh Law School, 1957-1959, received two degrees. Respondent reflects on "moonlighting" while attending both medical and law schools: difficult, long hours; provides information on joining Berry Program: set up by Colonel Berry for Armed Forces, purpose to defer medical students for 2 years to allow for medical specialization: greater help in service to Armed Forces at time of entry into military.
[T3S5] Respondent discusses entering military after only 1 year deferment, sent to Maxwell Airforce Base Hospital: work in histo-pathology, explains huge number of cases; comments on travels while in service including Israel: explains how they occurred; describes meeting paternal aunt and uncle in Israel, 2 cousins, remains in touch. Respondent reflects on meeting wife Sigrid, while in service and her work as medical secretary for Women's Air Force Service: born in Norway, joined service to obtain American citizenship. Respondent gives date of completing service: 1961; explains how Sigrid received early transfer; recalls his presence at Eichman trial in Israel and testimony of Justice Michael Musmanno; notes date of marriage to Sigrid: 1961, wedding performed by Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof, Rodef Shalom Temple; continues discussion on attending law school at night in Baltimore after transfer from Air Force base and return to Pittsburgh, 1962. Touches on work in various places including law firm before becoming coroner: elected 1970, remained until 1980; mentions running against John Heinz for seat in United States Senate: lost.
[T3S6] Respondent repeats information from previous tapes; describes conditions in coroners office during late 1960s: very poor, mentions improvements. Respondent discusses personal life: married 35 years, mentions wife's conversion to Judaism, gives names of 4 children (2 married), notes their education and professions, 3 grandchildren; discusses opening of Wecht Law Firm; mentions wife's master's degree in public policy, University of Pittsburgh, followed by law degree; states position with St. Francis Medical Center since 1974; does autopsies for other hospitals.
[T4S7] Respondent reflects on spending time with children during busy years: joined family for dinner then returned to work; discusses being public figure: effect on children; reflects on legal problems late 1970s to mid 1980s; children's reactions; mentions his trial. Respondent provides information on children's religious education: attended Hebrew Institute under direction of Solomon Abrams, all boys had Bar Mitzvah's there, daughter had Bat Mitzvah, continued at School of Advanced Jewish Studies; describes involvement with many Jewish Organizations: positive experiences with Lillian Friedberg on Jewish Community Relations Council; comments on Jewish community in Squirrel Hill: viable enclave.
[T4S8] Respondent notes family membership at Rodef Shalom Temple; now affiliated with Tree of Life Synagogue. [remainder of tape blank]
[T5S9] Respondent begins lengthy discussion of his significant cases: gives names; notes titles of 2 books he published: <i>Cause of Death</i> and <i>Great Secrets</i>; explains elements that draw him to cases: primarily, cases in forensic pathology field, interesting and challenging cases, celebrity status of cases, and controversial nature; explains most situations not unique, rather, people involved make cases exciting and challenging. Respondent states position with National Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA): chairman; membership in Assassination Records and Review board (ARRB): all members appointed by president Clinton: locates, identifies and discloses documents held back by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Respondent reflects on President John F. Kennedy (JFK) case: family unwilling to pursue issues; notes in 1972 given permission to study materials as non-governmental forensic pathologist, notes at this time observed JFK brain missing; testified under oath 3 times; served as technical advisor to Oliver Stone on his film about JFK; explains JFK case cannot be reopened: no legal vehicle to researchers, no advantage politically in present day politics to reopen investigation. Respondent adds to discussion on JFK: family resistant to explore further assassination issues and seeking "skeletons in closet" including relationships with other women. Respondent mentions Elvis Presley case: died from overdose of drugs, not heart problems as indicated in press reports; gives details; mentions O.J. Simpson case: likelihood of 2<sup>nd</sup> person involved.
[T5S10] Respondent discusses return to coroners office at age 64; lists improvements he made: tightening operation of office, greater amount of professional collegiality among pathologists, gives additional improvements; notes desire to develop Institute of Forensic Pathologists. Respondent discusses right to die issues: explains Jewish point of view; believes physicians should respond to persons request to relieve pain, but not actively produce death; leans toward liberal approach for persons dying based on all we know in medicine today; key: death with dignity. Respondent provides additional remarks on religious view: some interpretations reduce issue to point of absurdity; believes patients ultimate wishes to die should be respected; gives examples of cases. Respondent views accomplishments: pleased with chosen field, lists faculty appointments in various schools of University of Pittsburgh, presently head of pathology: St. Frances Central Hospital and president of medical staff; comments on opening Wecht Law Firm, notes extremely heavy schedule; deals with exciting situations. Respondent discusses future plans; mentions organ transplantation; touches on medical malpractice: believes large number of cases could be reduced if physicians would be more careful in examinations: physicians in training should be better informed by medical and legal authorities on malpractice issues.
Subjects
Coroners; Allegheny County (Pa.). Coroner's Office; Death; Hill District; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1933--Assassination; Lawyers; Law; Physicians; Medicine
Birth Date
1931
City
Pittsburgh, PA
Profession
Physician; Lawyer; Forensic pathologist
Work
Wecht Law Firm
Occupation (father)
Grocer
Length (hours)
4.5
Interviewer1
Rubinstein
Interviewer2
Stolzer, Shirley
Indexer
Berger, Betty
Collateral Materials
Box 107 FF 13
Identifier
ais196440.481
Rights
All rights reserved. University of Pittsburgh